A bill to review provisions of the Criminal Code Act on rape and kidnapping passed second reading at the Nigerian Senate on Tuesday.
The bill sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu wants Criminal Code Act Cap C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, amended. It seeks to have the portions of Sections 218 and 221 of the Criminal Code deleted; to amend the definition of rape as contained in Section 357, and also, to increase punishment for kidnapping in Section 364.
In her lead debate on the bill, Mrs Tinubu pointed out that rape as defined in the main Act made it a crime committed against women alone. According to the Criminal Code, a man commits rape when he has carnal knowledge of a woman against her will, without her consent, or if that consent was gotten by coercion.
She said, “The Criminal Code Act defines rape in Section 357 as an offence against women. However, times indicate that there are incidents of non-consensual sex perpetrated against the male gender.
“This definition is particularly grievous because it perpetuates the socio-cultural belief that men do not need to consent to sexual acts. In addition, we must ensure that our laws and jurisprudence evolve with the rest of the world.
On the issue of kidnapping, Section 364 gives a punishment of imprisonment for a term of 10 years where a crime of kidnap is established. According to the Act, kidnap is unlawful imprisonment of any person to prevent him from applying to a court for his release or from disclosing to any person where he is imprisoned.
Mrs Tinubu then said, “Simply put, stealing a living, breathing human. Curiously, the Act provides a term of 21 years for robbery and death for armed robbery. Why is the punishment for stealing property and replaceable things higher than what is obtainable when you steal a human being?
“The frequency of kidnap across the Federation and its resulting trauma, not to mention the number of lives lost to the crime, make it imperative to review our laws with a view to ensuring appropriate punishment for perpetrators and deterrence for would-be perpetrators. Thus, this bill proffers a life sentence for persons found guilty of kidnapping.”
Also sought for amendment is the 218 Section of the Act which states that anyone who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of thirteen or attempts same is guilty of a felony and liable to life imprisonment or 14 years imprisonment respectively. Tinubu was not happy with the provision of the Section that states that the prosecution of the offender must be commenced within two months after the offence is committed.
She argued that what the Section achieved was to impose a statute of limitation on prosecution of these offences, adding that the bar to prosecution negates the principles of natural law, equity and good conscience.
“This is untenable in a country where investigations often take longer than two months. Considering the shortage of police personnel, relative to our population as prescribed by international standards, the two months limitation is unlikely to be met at all. “With development and innovation in forensic technology and the accessibility or otherwise of such infrastructure in Nigeria, rushed investigations with a view to commencing prosecution within a two month period, leave the possibility of a huge margin for error.
“In the event that the police proceeds to prosecute outside the two months, all that it will take to dispel the entire charge is a challenge to the jurisdiction of the court, on the basis that it was brought outside of the time allowed by law,” she said.
The bill further seeks to Section 221 which provides that where a person has or attempts carnal knowledge of a girl being of or above the age of 13 and under the age of 16, an ‘idiot or imbecile’, he shall be liable to imprisonment for a period of two years, provided that the prosecution is commenced within two months after the offence is committed. She said, “We are at a time where these sort of crimes are on the increase. Daily, we are regaled with tales of children as old as a few months being defiled. Should perpetrators of such crimes be allowed to go scot-free on the basis of the technicality that prosecution did not commence within two months?
“This bill also proposes an amendment to Section 221, to substitute for the words ‘idiot or imbecile’, with ‘mentally challenged’. While words like idiot, moron, and imbecile were professionally used to measure IQ, they have acquired pejorative connotations, become derogatory and obsolete; and should no longer be contained in our laws.”
She said that the globally accepted aims of criminal law and the criminal justice system include deterrence, retribution, restoration, and rehabilitation of offenders.
“It delivers substantial justice and closure to the victim, the offender and the state. Where a law fails to achieve any of these, it is inherently faulty, hence the need for amendment, she added. The bill was unanimously passed after a voice vote and was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary for more legislative work. The committee is to report back in four weeks.